Little River Rail Trail

Little River Rail Trail is a former railway line between Hornby and Little River, New Zealand. It’s one of three NZ Cycle Trails in Canterbury. It can be done in one day. Door to door, from Phillipstown, it was 72km. Plan accordingly.

Little River Rail Trail has several stops and parking areas in between so you don’t have to do the entire trail like we did. I would advise, if anything, start it as close to Lincoln as possible. The bit from Hornby to Lincoln is trash. Maybe a cute stop in Prembleton is worth it but otherwise, skip ahead.

Aside from the industrial zones and tacky “trail” along the rail at the beginning, once you’re on the trail, it’s beautiful. The flat surfaces, gravel of course, follows small creeks and farmland, through the Canterbury Plains with ease. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a tailwind both ways. We were not so lucky. But bearing witness to the sweeping plains along the way is spectacular. You venture through heaps of sheep parties and cow herds as if you and your bike belong in the flats with the rest of them. Try not to get insulted, as I do, when sheep run away from you as you whizz by. And try not to inhale too hard when there’s loads of cows.

Once you get to a small station called Motukarara, you’re able to whip out your trusty activity guide and learn heaps about the historic station. It’s a great spot for lunch and a rest. From Motukarara, follow the trail to Kaituna Quarry, alongside Lake Elsmere. Beware! Flies (unnamed) hover on the banks of the lake during early Spring (and maybe other times too but I’m not going to find out). Not just a few flies, entire swarms of them that you can’t avoid. We covered ourselves head to toe to get through the dust. Aside from the flies, the best part about this part are the birds. They’re everywhere. Again, use your trusty activity sheet to identify (and draw) a few.

After Kaituna Quarry, you begin to get closer to the hillside and can detour into a beach called Birdlings Flat. This is about 2km off the trail but well worth the trip… especially after the fly incident. Birdlings Flat is a massive beachfront known for it’s gem and rock beaches. I love hunting on the beach for stuff so it was hard for me to only take one stone home, an agate. Take some time to enjoy the sounds of the waves crashing against the smooth pebbles and flowing back into the big ocean.

It began to rain at Birdlings Flat so we hopped on our bikes to get to our accommodation in Little River, roughly 12 km from that point. We’d been lucky enough to have spent the entire trip chasing the rain storms, and nearly missing some heavy rains. On the way to Little River, things got muddy as we’d just missed another rainfall. Beware the slippery bridges (the ones cows and sheep can’t cross) when wet. We followed Lake Forsyth along and stared up into the cliff face on the left hand side. The track comes closer to the road at this point and the noise picks up. We pedal into Little River and celebrated our epic day at a cafe for pies, salads and smoothies.

At around 4pm, with our bellies full, we trotted up toward our stay for the night. If you’ve never heard of a Pure Pod, your mind will be blown. It’s a completely enclosed, all glass house in the middle on nowhere in the Banks Peninsula. The closest township is Little River and that’s all I’m going to say about it’s location because that’s the beauty of it. It’s incredible how isolated it is on the hillside of the Okuti Valley (Okay, I’ve said too much!). I highly recommend it for anyone (or couple– very romantic!) who wants to get away and seriously disconnect from the grid. If you order the tasting platter too, you will be set for the overnight stay with heaps of local cheeses, breads, and various nibbles.

Staying in a glass house is amazing! It was a cloudy evening but to watch the moon peak through the clouds, venture across the sky and hear the rain on all sides of us was truly magical. You have an amazing view of the lake that melts your mind. You can’t really do anything up there except read, talk, think, and listen to nature tunes. It’s heaven for those tired of the city noise (aka innovation… or as the locals call it, construction).

This is a trip I highly recommend. Easy, long but well worth the payoff and treasure at the end.

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